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MCC men’s basketball looks for toughness in 2021

The midst of a pandemic wasn’t the ideal time for McCook Community College Men’s Basketball Coach Jacob Brandl to start his head coaching career. But then again, hardly any coach had an ideal time in 2020.

Recruiting was done almost exclusively virtually, questions lingered about the eventual season postponement, and some players looking for a college team hadn’t had access to gyms for workouts since their seasons ended last February and March. Yet, Brandl likes the product that has come together for the somewhat abbreviated 2021 season which begins Friday in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“It was a challenging fall but it’s been rewarding too. It’s good to see our group come together and go through some struggles and fight through it together,” Brandl said.

“I think our group is in a really good place right now as far as team chemistry goes and the closeness and the bond that we have,” Brandl said. “I’ve really been impressed how this group has taken on different challenges with each other and not just alone -- even within our scrimmages, I’ve been really pleased with the toughness that we play with.”

Brandl, who was hired in May, attended North Platte Community College from 2006-2008 and received his Associate of Arts Degree in 2008. From North Platte he went to Dana College in Blair, Midland University in Fremont and then eight years at Dakota Wesleyan, serving as Wesleyan’s Associate Head Coach in 2019-2020. He takes over a team that went 15-16 in the 2018-19 season.

While the fall scrimmage schedule was difficult for many teams with COVID-19 cases and quarantining, Brandl said MCC was fortunate being able get in five scrimmage dates. The tough part was establishing a consistent flow with conditioning, weight training, skill development and an ever-changing scrimmage schedule.

“In a normal year in preseason you’re conditioning two three times a week, lifting weights three or four times a week and doing skill development stuff whereas this year it wasn’t an immediate factor that you needed to be in game-ready shape by a certain date. So we took the approach with our practices and made them more game- like as much as possible to not wear guys out.”

The coach also likes the way the schedule was set up for the Indians this spring. Last season the Indians played 30 regular-season games including 11 opponents outside Region IX South and the NCCAC. This year’s slate calls for 22 games and six nonconference and all but one of those are against Region IX north opponents.

The Indians start the season Friday against Laramie County Community College and go to Torrington, Wyo. Saturday to play Eastern Wyoming -- then will be home six straight times between Jan. 29 and Feb. 16.

“The schedule is pretty favorable early on in the Region, two games on road and then it will be nice to have that stretch of home games early,” he said. “We’re just happy to get all 22 games that we’re allotted. It’s a tough region. There are no cupcakes. We have to be ready for a fight every night,” he said.

The personnel Brandl has assembled for his first season at MCC includes five returning sophomores (just one who started more than 10 games), four sophomore transfers, a pair of redshirt freshman and four true freshmen. The coach said one of the biggest strengths to this squad in the fall has been the Twos, Threes and Fours.

Rahkiem Petterson, (6-3 wing, Midland, Texas) is MCC’s top returning scorer on the 2020-2021 squad, starting 24 games, averaging 23.4 minutes per game as a freshman and averaging 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. “He has been our ‘rock.’ He is a tough, tough kid. One of the toughest I’ve ever been around and skillset- wise, he’s able to guard almost anyone on the floor for us. He’s really helped us identify that toughness area where our team identity comes into play,” Brandl said.

Marcus Tobin, (6-6 forward, Ewa Beach Hawaii) played in 28 games as a freshman, but showed up on campus this fall ready for a more significant role on the team. “Marcus had a great summer and he’s really come a long ways for us,” Brandl said. “Coming into the season, Marcus knew he was going to have to stretch the floor and play some Four for us and if he could shoot well enough, maybe play the Three, and he’s done a really good job of that and solidifying that Four slot.”  Last season, Tobin averaged six minutes per game, scoring 66 points, pulling down 66 rebounds, seven steals, five blocked shots and four assists.

“With him being 6-6 and really athletic, the only part to his game thing that was really missing was being able to shoot the ball and he’s really embraced being a Three and ‘D’ type of player.”

One freshman who has emerged from the group has been 6-7 forward Julian Lual, from Calgary, Alberta.

“He has tremendous up-side as a long, athletic kid who can guard multiple spots and is pretty skilled, his biggest issue is he just needs to be more simple and once he understands that simplicity is key, that young man’s basketball talent is going to take him as far as he wants to go,” Brandl said.

Bo Quinlan (6-4 wing, Beavertown, Oregon) played in all 31 games his freshman year at MCC.

“We’re expecting big things out of Bo with him being able to shoot the ball as well as he does,” Brandl said. Bo averaged 5.6 points, and 2.1 rebounds in 11.1 minutes per game. He made 58 of 128 shots from the field (45.3 percent), was 39 of 98 from the 3-point arc (39.8 percent), and made 19 of 21 free throws (90.5 percent).

“Defensively Bo has come a long way as well and is starting to solidify himself as a lockdown defender,” Brandl said.

Rashe’ “RJ” France, (6-4 redshirt sophomore wing, Memphis, Tenn.) played in one game as a freshman before sitting out the remainder year after transferring from Wallace Community College Selma in Alabama.

“He didn’t get a lot of time last year and is another one who is looking for minutes and was good for us in the fall scrimmages. Consistency on the defense end has been really big for RJ,” Brandl said. “He’s been really working on his shot as well. In games where we played really well this fall, RJ was making shots for us and that’s what we’re going to need from him down the stretch.”

Damien Perry (6-0 point guard, Wareham, Mass.) is expecting to take over the point-guard spot. He transferred from Laramie County Community College where he played in 21 games as a freshman averaging 13.4 points and 2.9 assists per game. He shot 35.4 percent from the floor, and 33.6 percent from the 3-point line. He scored 10 points in both games he played against MCC last year.

Redshirt Cory Kaplan (6-6 wing, Merit Island, Fla.) transferred to MCC from Florida Tech and brings some maturity and extra depth at the Two and Three-guard spots and freshman JaRon Crosby (5-9 freshman, Omaha Central) looks to push for minutes as well. At the semester MCC added three more players in: William Lee (6-0 freshman guard, Queens, N.Y. -- a transfer from Dodge City); DaMiene Boles Jr. (6-0 freshman guard from Dayton, Ohio) and Deion Crenshaw, (6-4 redshirt freshman guard, Austin, Texas, a transfer from University of the Southwest.)

“We have a good group of guards and the only position we weren’t real deep at was the bigs,” Brandl said.

In the fall, Cortland Blake, (6-5 forward, Fort Worth, Texas), got the bulk of the minutes at the Five spot as MCC used bigger personnel at the Four position to allow for some lineup flexibility. Martin Poznanovic, (6-7 post, Uzice, Serbia) is the only other post player who saw fall scrimmage action.

What MCC is hoping to achieve with this team, this season, all comes down to toughness.

“Toughness is something we preach. We are tougher together. We always want to be tougher than the other team. It is our identity on the defensive end, it was a big goal in preseason,” Brandl said.

“My philosophy is that if you are tough defensively, you always give your offense a chance to win the game,” he said. “Two things we’ve always talked about on the defensive end is eliminating easy buckets and forcing live-ball turnovers. So transition defense is big for us and we’ve worked on it a bunch.”

From an offensive standpoint he said it’s a contrasting style. “Defensively we are very disciplined, flying around, fast-paced, almost chaotic and on offense it’s pretty calm and just letting guys play, it’s not as structured and obviously you have to take care of the basketball,” he said.

MCC will play home-and-home games against the six other teams in the Region IX South Division (Northeastern JC, Otero, Western Nebraska, Lamar, North Platte and Trinidad State) as well as home-and-home series with the three teams in the NCCAC.

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